It used to be the hero who brooded. There he stood, in a corner, warily keeping his back to the wall, moodily gazing off into the middle distance, holding the heroine at arm’s length—until she got under his skin and he got under her petticoats. The heroine might be an innocent miss, a feisty spitfire or a bookish bluestocking, and she might pout or sulk, but she did not brood.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
In Suzanne Collins’s dystopian Hunger Games trilogy, the heroine, Katniss, is the one who does the brooding. Clever, resourceful and so guarded emotionally that even she doesn’t know what she really feels, Katniss has more in common with classic romance genre heroes than she does with heroines.
She certainly doesn’t fit any of the female master archetypes set out by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LeFever, and Sue Viders in their book, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes.
The book divides heroes and heroines into classic types. For heroes, the types include the chief, the bad boy, the best friend, the charmer, the lost soul, the professor, the swashbuckler and the warrior. For heroines, the options include the boss, the seductress, the spunky kid, the free spirit, the waif, the librarian, the crusader and the nurturer.
Yet Katniss, like the Zoe Washburn, the first officer on Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western series Firefly, is really more of a warrior archetype than she is a crusader. She certainly isn’t a waif or a nurturer. Katniss’ male love interests, on the other hand, include a crusader and a nurturer. (Zoe was married to a nurturer, too.)
In another new YA dystopian romance, Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, an isolated and watchful young woman is kept in solitary confinement because her touch is lethal. While I suppose the heroine, Juliette, might be considered a deadly subspecies of waif, she’s also got a touch of the crazy. (The book, written in her voice, contains many crossed out words and phrases, along the lines of I don’t want him to touch me
I want him to touch me I don’t want him to touch me.) There’s also a level of containment and self-sufficiency to Juliette, along with a very large dose of self-pity. You ask me, she’s more Lost Soul (brooding, unforgiving, fatalistic, according to the authors) than Waif (impressionable, passive and insecure).
Another book on character archetypes, 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, contains an Amazonian Artemis archetype that come closer to describing the Hunger Games’ Katniss.
Of course, the term ’Amazon’ brings to mind a character like Wonder Woman, while Juliette has a power very similar to that of another comic book character, the X-Men’s Rogue. Rogue, unlike Wonder Woman, is a prickly, difficult character. This is a part of her appeal. Many male super heroes capture classic male adolescent fantasies and fears (“Uncontrollable beams of power are shooting out my eyes! No one knows that I’m really a superior being!”) On the other hand, very few female super heroes plumb the female adolescent psyche. Rogue, with her I-touch-you-and-gain-power-but-lose-my-identity quandary, is one. Red Sonja is another. Red Sonja is constrained by a geas (curse) that prevents her from getting intimate with a man until he had bests her in fair battle. Her fighting prowess, and the chain mail bikini that probably chafes like hell, makes her another moody heroine. (Hey, maybe I should write my own version of Red Sonja, sixteen and a world-class brooder because she can’t have a boyfriend unless he defeats her in battle, at which point she’s going to be too dead to make out…no, wait, that was the Hunger Games. Never mind.)
Does the brooding heroine mark a sea change in popular romance? In the book Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on Romance, there is an essay titled “Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Hero as Challenge” by Doreen Owens Malek and another piece called “Mean, Moody and Magnificent: The Hero in Romance Literature” by Robyn Donald.
But in at least two new dystopian teen romance series, it’s the heroine who is mad, bad, moody and magnificent, and the hero who has to gain her trust and open her to the possibility of feeling love as well as lust. The man has to do all the emotional work – it’s an appealing fantasy.
No wonder so many middle-aged moms are browsing the YA section.